Do Fats Make you Fat? What Fats You SHOULD Eat

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

| Published on

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Getting and staying in shape is EASY.

However, people nowadays seem to overcomplicate it and look for magical pills, waist belts and what not.

It often gets to the point where extreme misconceptions about certain aspects of nutrition just pop up into the fitness masses.

For today, we’ll talk about one of those misconceptions – Fat intake!

Now, let’s get right to it and answer some of the most commonly asked questions!

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Do fats make you fat?

If you know a little bit about nutrition and physiology, you should know the logical answer – If you don’t consistently consume excessive amount of calories, you will stay in good shape and will gain little to no fat.

However, if you systematically consume an excess (surplus) of calories and that surplus comes from fats, well then yes – Fats can make you fat.

It is of prime importance however, to understand that fats are not inherently fattening in this case.

It is rather the excess of calories that makes you fat, not the fat itself.

Now, following this logic, we can say that it doesn’t matter where this excess comes from – Whether your surplus comes from protein, carbs, or fat, you will gain weight.

Note – A consistent surplus of 400 calories coming from protein will result in different amounts of fat gain, as opposed to 400 calories coming from fats/carbs.

This is simply because proteins have a higher thermogenic effect, meaning that the body uses (burns) more energy to metabolize that macronutrient.

The conclusion to this point is that fats from food can make us just as fat as any other food consumed in excess.

Are fats bad for you?

good fat foods

To get this out of the way – Fat intake is of prime importance, as it is an ESSENTIAL macronutrient for the body.

At least 15-20% of our daily energy intake should come from fats, to support a big number of physiological processes.

However, the answer to this question really depends, simply because there are more than 1 types of fat contained in foods, and some of those are really, really bad.

To be specific, there are 4 types of fat and some of them can lead to certain health issues, given that they are consumed excessively.

On the flipside however, we have other types of fat that are some of the most viable substances for the body and offer us an array of exceptional health benefits.

The short answer here is – Yes! Some fats can be bad for you.

It is worth noting that if the balance is in favor of the good type of fats, not only will we avoid the side effects of the bad fats, but we will also reap the health benefits of the good fats.

The only requirement? We need to learn how to differentiate good fats from bad fats!

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So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the types of fats!

Types of fats

1.Trans fats

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By nature, fats are not really stable substances.

This simply means that if we expose fats to different atmospheric conditions, such as sunlight, moisture and heat, they can get spoiled and lose their properties quite easily.

Now, the modern-day food industry uses A LOT of fat, which is exactly why they have found a way to counter the issue with fat instability.

Utilizing the process called “hydrogenation”, hydrogen atoms are added to the molecular structure of liquid fats, until they reach a semi-solid or solid state.

This process allows the fats and the foods they are used for, to have a prolonged shelf life.

However, fats that have undergone this process, contain fatty acids that have a chemically modified structure – Those are called “trans fats”.

When it comes to food, trans fats are pretty much one of the most toxic substances you can ever consume.

Systematic, excessive intake of foods containing trans fats will drastically increase the risk of cardio-vascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, as well as some cancers.

Now, we don’t want to instill fear in you, which is why we won’t list the vast variety of health complications one can experience, if they overeat those foods.

But is it really possible to bring down your trans fats intake to 0, given that the market is full of foods that contain them?

Well, it is indeed quite hard to do so, but not impossible.

What you can do is simply look out for the nutrition facts on each product.

It is worth mentioning that these stickers often contain deceiving names, used to sugarcoat the presence of trans fats.

Such names are “veggie fats” and “Partially hydrogenated fats” – So, if you see those, rest assured the product is stacked with s**t fats.

Foods that contain trans fats

  • Margarine
  • Waffles
  • Donuts
  • Cakes
  • Fries
  • Chips
  • Fast food

2. Saturated fats

saturated fats foods

This second type of fats are usually solid or semi-solid at room temperature.

Saturated fats can further be divided into 3 sub-types – Long, medium and short-chained triglycerides (triglycerides are fats).

  • Long-chained

These can be mainly found in animal products, such as beef, pork, veal meat, as well as dairy product and to a lesser extent, chicken.

  • Medium-chained

These are mainly contained in oils, such as palm and coconut oil.

  • Short-chained

These are derived from the fermentation of plant fibers in the intestines.

In medicine, saturated fats have been considered bad for a long time, due to the fact that they supposedly increase the levels of cholesterol.

However, about a decade ago in 2010 the American Journal of clinical nutrition, published a MASSIVE research, done with about 500,000 people.

What the research concluded is that there is not enough evidence to support the claims that saturated fats are inherently bad and a leading cause of cardio-vascular issues.

Even though that is an evidence-based fact, we do not recommend binging on saturated fats.

3. Monounsaturated fats

sources of monounsaturated fats

These are the third type of fats that are considered more healthy.

They can be found in avoados, nuts and some plant oils, such as olive oil.

Many researches show that such foods rich in monounsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol.

Mainly because of that, it is highly recommended that you make such foods the primary source of fat in your nutrition plan.

  • Polyunsaturated fats

Even though we put this last, this type of fats is not less important as opposed to monounsaturated fats.

As a matter of fact, polyunsaturated fats are the only type of fats that is ESSENTIAL for the body.

Odds are, you have probably heard their names – Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids.

Essential for the body simply means that the organism cannot produce that substance on its own, which is why we need to derive it through food and/or supplements.

Just like the previous type, both omega 3 & 6 have short and long-chained forms.

1. Omega-6 Fatty acids

The variety of food the market offers nowadays, gives us an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids.

That is exactly why we rarely observe deficiencies of this nutrient.

As to the short-chained omega-6, a substantial amount of them can be found in plant oils like sunflower, corn, soy and hemp oil, and also, nuts and seeds.

On the contrary, we have long-chained omega-6, which is also referred to as “Arachidonic acid (AA)”.

AA is involved in the structure of cell membranes and an array of physiological processes.

The long-chained omega-6 fatty acids are also used by the body to make up certain substances.

AA is mainly found in livers, sea food and egg yolks.

2. Omega-3 fatty acids

As we learned above, 21st century nutrition gives us plenty of omega-6 fatty acids.

However, the thing that lacks most in products is probably omega-3.

That is not particularly good, simply because omega-3 practically improves the efficiency of every system in the human body.

If you are an active trainee, it is highly recommended that you supplement with omega-3 fatty acids.

These fatty acids regulate inflammation and immune processes, making them a good preventative measure we can take.

Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.

This ultimately means a lower risk of cardio-vascular disease.

We can find short-chained omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soy and linseed oil.

Long-chained ones can be found in animal products like fat fish, crustaceans and fish oil.

Omega-3 & Omega-6 balance

omega 3 sources

Alright, we learned that omega-3 & 6 are essential fatty acids with a lot of benefits.

But does that mean we should consume them as much as possible?

Well, not really. As the saying goes – In big quantities, cure can be poison.

Besides granting your body with sufficient daily amounts of these fatty acids, they must be consume in a certain, balanced ratio.

It is worth mentioning that omega-6 fatty acids have pro-inflammatory properties, while omega-3 on the other hand, have anti-inflammatory properties.

For you, this simply means that if we take in too much omega-6, with no proper omega-3 balance, the inflammations in the body may become sharper.

Ideally, we are looking at a ratio of 1:1 or 4:1, omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

Sources of omega fatty acids

Generally, consuming fat fish like salmon, up to 3 times per week will be optimal to keep the balance in check.

Another option is finding a proper omega-3 fish oil supplement and adding it to your nutrition.

How much fat should I eat?

When we’re consulting people individually, usually this is one of the questions we get on a day-to-day basis.

Now, first off, we’d like to mention that tracking fats in your nutrition plan can be a good choice.

Fats are the most caloric macronutrient of all 3, at 9 calories per gram, compared to protein and carbs’ 4 calories/gram.

Even though good fats will certainly benefit your health, beware of consuming fat-abundant foods, as you can easily go over your daily maintenance requirements.

For example, there is a difference of more than 200 calories between 1 and 3 tablespoons of olive oil!

Fat is dense.

As to the recommended fat intake, it depends on many factors.

However, we generally recommend an intake of 0.35~0.45g of fats per lbs. of bodyweight.

And so, a 200 lbs male for example would need about 80g of fats daily, to sustain proper functioning of the organism.

Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that whatever it is that you consider about your training and nutrition, you should always aim for balance.

If you feel like binging on some chips, go ahead! But let the balance be in favor of sustainable, nutrient-rich foods, that have not undergone severe thermic treatment, such as deep frying.

Ultimately, your body will thank you, as it will become more and more efficient with the food you are giving it.

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